Tag Archives: zak bagans

152 – Haunted History in New England: A Conversation with Jeff Belanger

Jeff Belanger is one of New England’s premier haunted historians. Well known for his work with Ghost Adventures (he was one of the guys who found the haunted places and looked for witnesses willing to discuss their experiences), Jeff also hosted the online show Thirty Odd Minutes, has written fourteen books on hauntings, and was Emmy-nominated for his work on the PBS series, New England Legends (now available to watch on Amazon Prime!)

jeff belanger ghost adventures
Jeff Belanger looking like a total badass!

Growing up in Connecticut near Ed and Lorraine Warren (he even got to hang out at their house!), Jeff found himself fascinated with the paranormal at an early age. He started the popular ghost story site, Ghost Village in 1999 which is easily one of the largest paranormal resources on the Internet. Since then, he’s been writing books, hosting TV shows , and even climbing Mount Kilimanjaro (which we get to in this episode).

Jeff Belanger 30 odd minutes zombie t-shirt
Jeff on 30 Odd Minutes, with an awesome t-shirt!

In this conversation Jeff shares his first real-life ghostly encounter in the Catacombs of Paris, some of his favorite New England ghost stories and legends, the inspiration behind his mountain climbing in Africa, and why Sandy Hook Truthers are sadly mistaken.

One of the stories that Jeff told us that really resonated with me was the story of Mercy Brown, a girl who died of tuberculosis in Exeter, Rhode Island in 1892. Her mother and older sister also died of tuberculosis and  then brother came down with it, so the people of Exeter believed that there was a vampire that was cursing the family. They dug up the bodies to see, but since it was wintertime and Mercy was being kept above ground (they had to wait for the ground to thaw to bury her), she was not as decomposed as they thought she should be. Also, as her body was more fresh so it still had blood in the liver and heart, which made them believe she was a vampire.

jeff belanger mercy brown vampire ghosts
The grave of Mercy Brown

They believed that they could end the vampiric curse and save her brother by ripping out her heart, burning it, and feeding him the ashes, so they did. And it didn’t work, two months after eating his sister’s burned heart, Edwin Brown succumbed to the disease as well. That seemed like an excellent inspiration for a track, because looking at it from today’s perspective, the whole adventure seems so misguided. All they did was drag Edwin and poor Mercy’s father through Hell by digging up the bodies of the people he loved and make him believe that his daughter was a hellish abomination. Let the dead rest. Things are better left buried in the past. Mercy’s father went through all that turmoil, he made his son eat his own daughter’s burned out heart and it was all pointless anyway. That’s the inspiration for this track, “Digging Up The Dead”.

Rusty nails and rotten wood
And earth in every seam
I spit the dirt out of my mouth
I wake up from a dream to
Be thirsty like I’ve never been
A constant agony
With the black dog that walks at my back
And damns my memory.
Lord grant us mercy from afar,
forgive the prayers we should have said,
Oh you can burn up my heart,
and eat the ashes that are left,
But you’re just digging up the dead.
You’re just digging up the dead.
The things that should be left alone
They’re not for man to touch
The past is just a shallow grave,
That’s best left in the dust.
We keep kicking the pale horse,
’til the blood just turns to rust.
No, you can’t beat the Devil,
By remembering too much.
Lord grant us mercy from afar,
forgive the prayers we should have said,
Oh you can burn up my heart,
and eat the ashes that are left,
But you’re just digging up the dead.

Too Many Ghost Hunters?

An interesting story from CNN this week about the proliferation of ghost investigation groups across the United States since the dawn of the Ghost Hunters in 2004. And not only how ghost investigation groups are hitting the mainstream now but that because there’s so many groups and only so many TV spots and haunted places, that these teams are going into competition against each other for attention.

zak balans hardbody
I know people love Zak Bagans but did he just ask me, “Do you even lift, bro?”

And it’s true, like comic books, the world of the paranormal has gone from a geeky subculture to big business because producers saw dollar signs. Reality TV is cheap to produce (no matter how much these paranormal investigative groups make off each episode, it’s still nothing compared to a scripted show. There’s no Screen Actors Guild for reality TV stars.) Since the Ghost Hunters debuted, it’s been one more paranormal show after another, from college research groups like Paranormal State to following around a couple of Chicago police officers known as the Paranormal Cops (worth watching for the lovely Chi-cah-go accents alone.)

When I was a kid I would have loved to see all these shows about ghost hunters on the air. When That’s Incrediblehad a seance (with psychic Sylvia Browne!) inside a Toys ‘R Us, it was the most captivating thing that I ever saw.

But now, I can be hardly bothered to watch most of the paranormal shows. I’ve known people who’ve been on reality shows and they’ve told me how much of it is scripted.  We’ve interviewed people who have been featured on haunted specials and they are told to stick to the script no matter what. You just need to take everything you see on TV (including That’s Incredible even if it does feature Pro Football Hall of Famer, Fran Tarkenton, who always sounded like a very reasonable man to me!) with a massive grain of salt. It’s TV, they’re not on a mission to find the truth, they’re on a mission to get viewers so they can sell more ads.

And that’s okay, because it means it’s up to us to decide what to believe and not believe. And the competition is good because it means that hopefully more clear-headed investigations with thorough historical research can win out over guys just yelling at the air while waving around EMF sensors.

I’m all about entertainment, but it’s important to draw a distinction. Before ghost hunters were cool, most of us experienced some kind of ridicule for thinking this stuff was awesome. It’s important not to blend the “entertainment” part of it all (like movies, even great scary movies like The Conjuring that nonetheless stretch the facts) from actual investigation and research, which requires sources of local legends and trying to maintain some reasonable amount of scientific conditions in the field. That means a lot of sitting in the library and a lot of sitting in dark, cold rooms in old houses. But that’s what we signed up for.

Anyway, I love all these new ghost hunters and paranormal investigators because it brings you guys here to our little podcast, blog, and music – as well as to my haunted history tours, so I say, keep the competition coming!